McDonald’s takes the proverbial and the youth sector applauds its championing of soft skills

Ta to unionsmatter.com

Ta to unionsmatter.com

The PR department of McDonald’s has come up with an astonishing wheeze. In a brazen move, one can but grudgingly admire , it is marketing the company as a pioneering advocate of soft social skills. With not a touch of embarrassment it announces in the introduction to BACKING SOFT SKILLS :

At McDonald’s, soft skills are at the heart of what we do. We know that these skills can really affect a customer’s experience with us, and that they are critical to our employees’ performance, progression and motivation.

To be translated as our employees better do as they are told, never complain, forever smile mechanically and intone repetitiously, ‘have a good day’. See Alan Mackie’s  Aesthetic Labour : Grooming Young People to sell their bodies, their personalities

And never fear the data is at hand to support McDonald’ assertion, albeit somewhat blinkered and speculative. We are informed,

  • By 2020, over half a million UK workers will be significantly held back by a lack of soft skills – an issue forecast to affect all sectors.

And here’s me thinking they might be held back by the lack of jobs, zero-hour contracts, low pay, crap working conditions and a precarious sense of the future.

  • At the same time, soft skills contribute £88 billion to the UK economy today – with this contribution predicted to increase to £109 billion during the next five years.

Now, I’m happy to be put straight by a statistician in our midst, but what evidence and formulae allow this sort of guestimate to have any substance at all? Such doubts don’t worry though the born-again McDonald’s tough, yet sensitive, hard, but soft leadership.

We’re spending 2015 championing the hard value of soft skills, together with leading organisations from the worlds of business and education, alongside entrepreneur James Caan CBE. We hope not only to change peoples’ perceptions of soft skills, but also to generate some brilliant new ideas about how to develop them in the workforce so that all employees can benefit from them throughout their careers and lives.

Not to mention their hope that this PR exercise might change people’s perceptions of their dodgy, exploitative global company.

Now, of course, improving communication, helping folk work in teams is something that arises out of the youth work process and is familiar territory, as it is for many other professions. And, of course, in the workplace it is a commitment more honoured in the breach than in the observance – witness the authoritarian practices in recent decades of the ‘new managerialists’ in the youth service. Nevertheless, for tactical reasons, we might want to welcome McSkills research, but do we have to be so nauseatingly sycophantic about it?

Neil Burke, Youth Focus North East:

“Soft skills are crucial to young people to not only successfully enter employment but more importantly sustain employment. Youth Focus: North East believes that young people should be educated in soft skills and supported to learn how they can then apply these skills in the world of work. The UK’s future productivity highly depends on young people being equipped with these soft skills and it is fantastic to see McDonalds and other private sector organisations recognising this and putting resources into supporting young people to develop these.”

National Youth Agency

“Those of us who work with young people know that often what stops them achieving their potential and making successful transitions to adult life is not formal academic qualifications. Without the capacity to work with others, to communicate effectively and appropriately, to manage their emotions and channel their energy, to problem solve and perhaps most importantly to have resilience so when things go wrong they can learn from it and pick themselves up and carry on, young people struggle to secure work and be proactive members of their communities.

We are delighted to be supporting McDonald’s, one of the most powerful youth brands, in encouraging everyone be they business, government or civil society to play their part in equipping young people with the soft skills they need to succeed.”

We like to talk of ethics in youth work. Indeed the NYA is the guardian of our ethical framework. All of which makes the NYA’s genuflection in the face of young people being told to control their emotions and be resilient all the more offensive. I am bound to ask the question of the NYA. Does this mean that, even though a young person is being ripped off and abused at work, he or she should shrug their shoulders, keep their gobs shut and never seek to chat angrily and emotionally with their team members about their shared situation? In this stifling context it seems reasonable to add a few critical caveats to the  cloying embrace of both McDonald’s effort to make-over its image and the ideology underpinning this research, which yet again focuses on so-called skills shortages, upon a deficit model of young people and humanity, rather than acknowledge the regime’s wilful failure of to create socially necessary and properly paid employment. To be going on here are a few.

McDonald’s continues to be infamous for its utter hostility to the unionisation of its employees.

Despite the objections of McDonald’s, the term “McJob” was added to Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary in 2003. The term was defined as “a low-paying job that requires little skill and provides little opportunity for advancement”.

Low pay, short-term zero-hour contracts are the norm internationally. After a major strike in South Korea the labor leader Cheong Ok-soon explained,  “Everywhere you go in the world, fast-food workers are suffering with low wages, long hours and unstable employment. They can’t live a normal life under the working conditions they face now, so they have no option but to fight in solidarity.”

The European Commission is investigating McDonald’s deliberate avoidance of over €1 billion in corporate taxes in Europe over the five year period, 2009-2013. 

I can hear the cry that it’s necessary to be realists, to be pragmatists; that you can’t bite the burger that feeds you. If this be so, at the very least, let’s do it through gritted teeth with a growl of dissent in our voice. Grrrr!

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